HK Raw and Ready: Day 1

Have decided raw day-by-day updates are more in keeping with the spirit of this trip than a considered, end-of-trip retrospective. So because the hotel wireless is pretty hopeless, will upload pics only after I get back.

So after arriving and checking into the hotel, I had my first proper meal at Cherry Garden Restaurant (actually really a cafe) in Tak Hing Street, after making an initial on-foot orientation around the hotel’s surroundings at Austin Road. Had a steaming bowl of beef brisket topped off by traditional yuan yang coffee-tea hybrid.

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It’s teatime now but fortunately or rather unusually, the bustling of life doesn’t intrude here at this moment. Only four tables are occupied, scattered all around, mostly elderly folk nursing their tea, in quiet contemplation or conversation. At the far end a flat screen broadcasts some cartoon on a Chinese channel with the sound mercifully off. A good choice of place for a late lunch. Don’t think any place along the hub that is Nathan Road would offer this kind of respite now.

I’m using the time to mull on my options for the next couple of days. A walk around Kowloon Park definitely. Maybe a walking tour or several, perhaps self-designed ones. Plan to sample lots of local foods. If my ex taught me anything, her exploratory knack does hit pay dirt often. Going off the beaten track, taking time to look, explore and observe, in no hurry to move move move, an agenda always in the midst of being shaped. Is so much better than a guided, planned-to-the-minute thing that we had when last we came.

WX would definitely love this place. Ok I’m not supposed to dwell on her, but everywhere I see things that remind me of her, of things she said. So let’s choose to view these as nice memories or echoes then. Why choose to dwell on miseries when life is short and its gift is a blessing to us for others?

When I came here with the ex, I remember how alone I was, exploring the harbourfront while she chose to shop. Thinking then what a pity we couldn’t share this one memory. Never seeing the irony in the foreshadowing.

I’m reminded of ‘not all who wander are lost’, a Tolkien quote that WX uses as a signature in one of her email accounts. ‘The key is to observe’ is her Twitter tagline. Both sayings are so resonant now. Recalling this, writing this now, I don’t feel down or bad or anything like that, actually. It’s just a memory.

After lunch, more exploring. I decided to hug rather than walk along Nathan Road, so that I could slip into lanes and places I fancied. And the crowds came, thick and fast and teeming.

The first place I stopped at was, surprise surprise, Chung Hwa Book Company, which I think is one of the more established bibliophile places in the territory. Flipped through this book exploring queer culture in Singapore. Not sure if it can be published back home.

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Reacquainted myself with a walking tour guide of HK, which reminded me and gave me some ideas of what to do in the next couple of days.

Then it was onto the second storey, which held stationery. Lots of pretty little cute things, and I flashed upon looking for tokens for JW, YS, LAH and other colleagues. Finally decided on six self-inking bite-sized teacher’s stamps, and I took care to select a range of encouraging remarks (and one on handwriting). I think it’s a pretty nifty yet meaningful gift – I’ve not seen them back home anyway.

The third storey carried serious academic stuff, in Chinese. Looking at the volumes, I realise how illiterate I was in another language. It’s pretty humbling to know there’s a whole universe of knowledge I can’t access.

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Then back to browsing the street, which was just bursting with human traffic. Walking by chance into a local sports store, I realised I could look out for old season Chelsea jerseys, and true enough I found one, original, at a discounted price. Will keep an eye out for more in the next few days.

Tried street food. Walked sections of a night market. I now know it’s not that I’m averse to browsing such places, but I just didn’t like doing it when it was with the ex. Chanced upon Maxim opposite Mong Kok City Centre.

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Will check its other outlets online when I get back to the room.

Then I went off Nathan Road, just walking where the path took me. Moved away from the shopping, touristy areas, and the human traffic also started to thin. Now you could see more locals going about their business. Walked along Yuen Ngai Street, then Prince Edward West, where lots of flower shops were set up. Saw lots of people carrying bouquets home.

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And thought of Mrs Dalloway’s line. ‘Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself’. Remembered watching The Hours, while Mum lay in her box. Turns out the movie isn’t about death, it’s about life. And then it comes to me, we shouldn’t walk the same path over and over because it’ll wear us down just as we wear it down.

Wanted to continue and walk back towards Nathan and see how far I could get to the other end, but I chanced upon yet another cafe and I wanted to stop and pen this, over dinner. Ordered fried rice noodles with beef, not very appetising honestly, but you have to chance. Sometimes you get the quotidian, but maybe life is in the cumulation of quotidian averages spiced with some excitement once in a while.

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Anyway I think I finally understand what it means to move on and let things be. It’ll be okay. The memories are part of me, but going down that path over and over just wears them down as it wears me down. And if I want to honour them the way they are, that’s the last thing I should do. So sitting here, in another run-of-the-mill cafe, having difficulty finishing the rice noodles because I’m not really hungry as the street food was rather filling, with lively conversation at the next table and cigarette smoke wafting onto me, I come to this realization.

Am I going to work through these little ‘epiphanies’ in anonymous cafes far from the madding crowd over the next few days? Maybe. It’s like little pit stops on some kind of road trip where you take time to pen stuff down, not with ink in a notebook but with your WordPress app on the iPhone. Whatever. I can’t get my roaming to work. No matter. I plan to update every night using the hotel wireless anyway.

It’s almost eight. When I’m done and am back out into the chilly night (I need my sweater and my thick windbreaker), I plan to walk back towards the hotel and try to find my way back.

People walk a lot in HK. Even with a good public transport system. You virtually cannot find an obese Hongkonger. They walk off what they eat, then set down somewhere to recharge, then walk it off again. It’s built into this frenetic energy of the city. I could see Soaps living here, and living it up here. I hope she gets the job, and if she does I will definitely come back to catch up.

Then predictably I get lost, and I was wandering for about an hour before I finally got my bearings. So many serendipitous encounters with all sorts of little eateries in the back streets – Shanghai and Parkes and what-have-you; I forget but I will definitely explore in days to come.

It’s ten past midnight already. Am going to stop here and turn in. I need to crash, since I didn’t get any shuteye last night. Will explore brekkie in those side streets and then hit Central or Kowloon Park; I haven’t decided. I also need to check up stuff on the Net before I head out. So much to do! I hope I have enough time.

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